So far, I have sunk 19 hours into Gravity Rush 2. I have also made startlingly little progress in the story—apparently only one-third of the way through. It’s so early on, that there is one major ability usable in its demo from a couple of months ago that I’ve still yet to unlock After 19 hours!
How does that happen? There is one obvious culprit to point to, namely that Gravity Rush 2 is an open-world game. True to form, it does take on many of the trappings from other games of its kind. A skill tree. A massive, sprawling world map. Through which gravity shifter Kat and her cat companion Dusty must traverse. To take on story and side missions. Also discover fast travel points. Or plunge into the plethora of other side activities—score and timed challenges here, treasure hunts there, mining expeditions elsewhere, NPCs scattered about to talk to for the sake of character and world-building, shit to collect.
Gravity Rush 2 has so much #content, the conventional logic goes, that it must obviously follow that it will take a long-ass time to go through it all. That’s the open-world way, after all! Oh hey, look at that, I’ve already answered the question, this concludes the article, thank you for reading, comment and subscribe...
Except that doesn’t really answer the question. Were that the main reason, chances are I would be currently getting some serious open-world fatigue and frustration over wasted time in the face of a long laundry list of things to do and an excessive amount of traveling time that could be better spent doing something fun. So much padding!
But I feel no fatigue and am actually enjoying Gravity Rush 2 quite a lot. I do not feel that it wastes my time. Thus, we’ll need to go deeper: How does a game take up so much time while making so little progress, yet still leave this player satisfied enough to not mind the snail’s pace? The trick, so to speak, is a one-two-three punch combo of excellence.
First, it is fundamentally satisfying to move around using Kat’s gravity-manipulating powers. More than merely an open-world game, Gravity Rush 2 is an open-world platformer with a radical twist: Kat has the power to redefine her own personal gravity at will. She could float in the air, weightless and motionless. She could point anywhere she wants and make that her “down” direction, then use it to either do the “falling with style” definition of flying, or literally walk on goddamn walls and ceilings. She could quickly get around on foot through the skateboard-like technique of “gravity sliding.”
And she can chain all of these skills together to feel like the world’s greatest badass while traveling from point A to points B, C, D, and H. Gravity Rush 2's expansive environments would be a total drag to navigate if this were a conventional platformer, but when it comes to Kat, why be conventional? Up or sideways can be down! She can redefine what it means to be a “platform” on a whim; maybe it’s now the walls? Maybe the ceilings? Or she could ignore platforms entirely and fly everywhere instead! There is almost always a fast—and, more importantly, pleasurable—way to go anywhere.
Second, Gravity Rush 2 does one part of the open-world formula exceptionally well. That massive, sprawling world map? It is utterly fantastic. I am not kidding, I may have spent more time wandering around the vast expanse of floating islands that make up the city of Jirga Para Lhao than doing anything else, missions or otherwise. Whereas the standard open-world reputation/stigma is that the world map essentially acts as an elaborate, glorified menu for picking out missions and side activities, Jirga Para Lhao offers quite a bit more.
It reaps the benefits of taking place in a fascinating and trippy setting. Saints Row IV and the Just Cause series may be similarly focused on providing sheer freedom of movement, but a civilized planet exclusively made up of floating islands has them both beat as a playground for flexing powers of mobility. The novelty of being able to run and fly around, on the side of—and even under—the world does not run out so quickly. It also happens to be gorgeous to boot.
Gravity Rush 2 uses the floating-islands setting to pull off some jaw-dropping level design as well. Observe this completely zoomed-out view of the map for Jirga Para Lhao.
Yes, it looks like your typical huge open-world map, broken down into four districts. What the map does not get across, however, is that the districts all lie on different elevation levels. The first district you come across once introduced to the city—the one from the demo—is Lei Colmosna, a bustling downtown haven for skyscrapers and storefronts. However, there are districts physically above and below it. Directly below Lei Colmosna is the poverty-stricken and dimly lit Lei Elgona. Directly above it is the grouping of mansions and green pastures of Lei Havina. Highest of all is Avarash Au Govena, where Jirga Para Lhao’s Council resides.
So if I was currently in Lei Colmosna and wanted to, say, go somewhere in Lei Elgona, how would I get there? Why, I would jump off the edge of the island on which I stand, then proceed to freefall hundreds of yards until you break through a thick layer of clouds to see a new cluster of islands come into view.
It is just as batshit crazy to experience as it sounds. For perspective’s sake, video games rarely shock me. The first time Gravity Rush 2 directed me to JUMP OFF THE ISLAND I stood on and FALL THROUGH THE FUCKING SKY, and eventually come across an entire other set of floating islands that I’d eventually come to know as Lei Elgona? That shocked me.
It caught me so off-guard, with my knowledge of Jirga Para Lhao only going as far as Lei Colmosna, that it took me a little while to realize this was not a mission-specific setpiece or mission-specific location. Lei Elgona was actually a part of the world map. Not only that, but this crazy-ass Hayao Miyazaki/J. J. Abrams Star Trek stunt was THE standard way to reach this segment of Jirga Para Lhao. That sure is one way to turn the world map from a hub area into a capital-E Experience.
(plus, yeah, the class-hierarchy-made-literal angle of this is wholly intentional, with class inequality having large prominence in the narrative)
Third, to top everything off, just in case anyone needs a practical reason to fly, fall, and wall-walk everywhere, Jirga Para Lhao offers a vast multitude of precious gems—their words, not mine—scattered all throughout the land(s) to collect. They are the currency for buying upgrades to all of Kat’s abilities. And they just so happen to placed on the sides of buildings, under ceilings or bridges, and over the rooftops of all those skyscrapers. All perfect opportunities to put Kat’s powers to use!
Those gems are what tie the other standout features—them awesome gravity mechanics, all that imaginative world map level design—together into a worthwhile open-world platforming experience. The allure of the gems is what singlehandedly kept me wandering the world map more than anything else. “Ahh, here’s something I need to do. Time to set a waypoint. Let’s head off to it! Oh snap, wait, that wall of the skyscraper has a bunch of gems; detour time! Cool, they’re all collected, now where was I...NO WAIT, MORE GEMS UNDER A BRIDGE. Cool they’re all collected, now where was I...NO WAIT”
This can go on for upwards of half an hour before finally reaching my destination. Crucially, though, it does not feel time that could have been spent on better things. It’s a pleasantly low-key way to use my powers which is of tangible benefit to me in the long run. In other words, something that I like to do that presents me with a worthwhile reward for doing it. Besides, thanks to said powers, no point of interest is ever going to be more than a couple of minutes away anyway, so the extra distance isn’t much to stress over. Thinking on all of that together, it’s almost as if this get-distracted-on-way-to-destination routine was an intentional piece of game design.
Plus, consider this: Gem-collecting is so persistent and rewarding as an activity, Gravity Rush 2 is able to get away with perhaps the sparsest minimap ever put into an open-world game. It’s the polar opposite of the icon overload that often seems to plague these games, yet that does not represent a severe lack of “game” on offer. The time that would have been spent going through #sidecontent in a different game instead goes toward picking up gems around Jirga Para Lhao. Such is the power of a useful collectible.
Gravity Rush 2 is not a great game. As a whole, it’s actually rather inconsistent in quality and lacking polish in several respects. But I don’t need it to be consistently great. It fills a specific niche to my liking by utterly nailing the open-world platforming, and that’s more than enough for me.